Michael O'Leary
Ryanair boss Michael O'Leary © PA

Ryanair’s unions have criticised Michael O’Leary, the low-cost airline group’s chief executive, after the company announced he could receive a bonus of up to €99m.

Joost van Doesburg of the Dutch pilots’ union VNV said: “This type of bonus will only stimulate Mr O’Leary to continue his unsustainable way of dealing with his employees and increase social abuse like bogus self-employment and no sick pay.

“It would be much better if the social welfare of the Ryanair staff would be taken into account when the senior management are getting their bonuses.”

Brian Strutton, general secretary of Balpa, the British pilots’ union, said: “If [Mr O’Leary] deserves a whopping great bonus like this, then pilots deserve the equivalent because they meet their targets day in and day out.”

Ryanair did not respond to a request for comment.

The UK-listed and Irish based airline issued options for 10m shares to Mr O’Leary on Friday at a strike price of €11.12, which he can buy should he increase the company’s profitability to €2bn and/or its share price to €21 over the next five years.

The difference between 10m shares at €21 each and the same number at €11.12, their closing price on Friday, is €99m.

Ryanair’s share price hit a peak of nearly €20 in August 2017, but since then has slid as oil prices have risen and industrial action escalated.

If Mr O’Leary increases Ryanair’s profitability to €2bn but the share price does not hit €21, his bonus would be smaller.

Last week Ryanair reaffirmed its warning that full-year profit would be in the range of €1bn-€1.1bn. The range had been €1.25bn-€1.35bn before two profit warnings in the past four months. 

Royal London Asset Management, a Ryanair shareholder, called the potential award “wholly inappropriate”.

“Asking shareholders to pay directors more than €100m for achieving a marginal improvement over its share price high in August 2017 is ludicrous,” the investment group said.

Ryanair has been engaged in negotiations with its unions since agreeing to recognise them in late 2017 after a rostering failure and staff shortage led to thousands of flight cancellations.

But talks have progressed fitfully, and there was a summer of strikes including five days by Irish pilots and two days of co-ordinated pan-European action by cabin crew.

Ryanair Sun, the airline’s Polish subsidiary, refused to recognise the new national union for cabin crew and asked them and pilots to sign up to the company’s local subsidiary as contractors, which would remove their permanent employee rights.

Some union figures said the announcement that Mr O’Leary would give up day-to-day running of Ryanair to become group chief executive and that chairman David Bonderman would step down in 2020 could lead to a better climate for industrial relations.

Additional reporting by Owen Walker

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